Guide to British Music of the 1960s

 

John Mayall's Bluesbreakers

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John Mayall - keyboards/vocals, John McVie - bass, Martin Hart - drums, Bernie Watson - guitar, Peter Ward

The alumni of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers reads like a who's who of British blues music with many internationally famous musicians passing through its ranks. With an ever-changing line-up there is no definitive Bluesbreakers except for the constancy of leader John Mayall. He formed the Powerhouse Four with Peter Ward in 1956. He then moved the the Blues Syndicate which contained a number of different musicians exploring jazz and blues. After moving to London in 1961 on the advice of Alexis Korner, Mayall formed the Bluesbreakers. The musicians had been playing the London R&B scene and Watson had once been a member of Cyril Davies's All Stars.

Ian Samwell produced the first single Crawling Up a Hill. The first line-up change followed this with Hughie Flint replacing Hart on drums and Watson replaced by Roger Dean on guitar. This is the line-up of The Bluesbreakers that played on the live debut album John Mayall Plays John Mayall which was recorded at Klooks Kleek.

After the first album, Dean left to be replaced by Eric Clapton who had recently left The Yardbirds. The band lost the Decca contract but signed to Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label, releasing the single I'm Your Witchdoctor. This was produced by session musician Jimmy Page. Following a return to Decca, the band released what is generally seen as the definitive John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers album The Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton aka the Beano album. Not only did the LP reach the top ten in the UK but it established Clapton as the foremost guitarist of the time and the phrase "Clapton is god" was born.

Despite the success of the album Eric Clapton left shortly afterwards to join with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker from the Graham Bond Organisation to form Cream. He was replaced by Peter Green who lasted just the one album A Hard Road before leaving to form Fleetwood Mac. According to John McVie, Green approached Mayall after a gig and said "I can play as well as him (Clapton)." The Blues Alone was a departure from the usual format as Mayall was overdubbed on vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass and harmonica. Former Artwoods drummer Keef Hartley was the only other musician on this album.

Crusade featured Mick Taylor on guitar after which McVie joined Green in Fleetwood Mac. Tony Reeves played bass on the band's highest charting LP Bare Wires. At this stage Taylor left to replace Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones and the band continued as John Mayall without the Bluesbreakers suffix.

John Mayall has performed consistently since the 1960s including occasional reunions of the "key" band members. A look back at his work from the 1960s is one of the main starting points for understanding 1960s British music as many of the "greats" were once Bluesbreakers.

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